Microchip – Microcontrollers and Development Tools

Microchip Technology Inc. is perhaps best known in the industry for its PIC® range of microcontrollers; particularly at the 8-bit end of the market but also increasingly for more advanced 32-bit based applications. The breadth of Microchip’s product portfolio and its vast user base makes it a truly world-class player in a wide range of embedded microcontroller markets. In addition to its 8-, 16- and 32-bit microcontroller and Digital Signal Controllers (DSC) products, the company is also a maker of analog semiconductors, memory and wireless products.

The PIC microcontroller has an extensive user base and is extremely popular with engineers designing industrial and consumer applications and with hobbyists and students, as the company’s PIC MCUs are low cost and widely available. Also within the portfolio is a range of 16-bit MCUs and dsPIC® Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs), which integrate full DSP capability.

The extensive microcontroller portfolio offers a wide range of performance needs to meet target applications from low-cost and low-power devices up to devices offering performance levels of 330 DMIPS (Dhrystone Million Instructions Per Second). The portfolio ranges from 375B to 2Mb of program memory as code requirements grow and features an upward compatible architecture to preserve investment in code development. Pin compatibility in multiple packages also facilitates drop-in replacement parts from 6 to 144 pins.

In addition to Microchip’s large silicon portfolio, there is substantial support available to design engineers via an extensive development ecosystem including full starter kits, development boards, low-cost or free software development tools, application notes and application reference designs.


8-bit PIC Microcontrollers

Microchip’s 8-bit PIC microcontrollers offer 375B to 128KB of Flash memory, 16B to 4KB of RAM, and on-board EEPROM. Also featuring 1.8 to 5.5V operation, the range offers pin and code compatibility across families with packages from 6-pin DFNs to 100-pin TQFPs. Other key features of the range include: high-resolution PWMs, ADCs and DACs and connectivity such as I2C, SPI, UART, USB and Ethernet interfaces; along with active current down to 35uA/MHz, sleep current as low as 20nA, and battery lifetime greater than 20 years.

A major feature of newer 8-bit PIC devices is the use of what Microchip calls ‘Core Independent Peripherals’, which are designed to handle their tasks with no code or supervision required from the CPU to maintain operation. As a result, they simplify the implementation of complex control systems and provide designers with a high level of flexibility. Once initialized in a system, the peripherals can provide steady-state closed-loop embedded control with zero intervention from the core. The CPU can then be idled or put into sleep mode to save system power. The peripherals are smartly interconnected to allow near zero latency sharing of data, logic inputs, or analogue signals without additional code or interruption of the CPU. This frees the CPU to perform other system tasks and reduces Flash memory consumption. By taking the load off the CPU, the peripherals allow smaller and lower power PIC MCUs to perform extremely complex tasks, such as high-power lighting control and communication. In addition, significant BOM cost savings can be realized by replacing off-board discrete components with these integrated peripherals.

The 8-bit PIC range comes in four types, which offer increasing levels of performance: Baseline; Mid-Range; Enhanced Mid-Range and finally the PIC18 range. Key highlights of the PIC 8-bit architecture include:


  • Instructions and data on separate buses
  • Simultaneous data and instruction bus access
  • Wide program memory buses (12-, 14- and 16-bit)
  • Increased efficiency single cycle instructions
  • Available data EEPROM
  • Unified toolset for all cores

Figure 1: Microchip’s 8-bit PIC microcontroller architectures


The ‘Baseline’ microcontrollers use a 12-bit instruction word and provide a wide selection of features and options to minimize expenses. Typical features include 8-bit ADC, comparator, data memory and internal oscillator. An example family is the PIC10F.

The ‘Mid-Range’ forms the next tier up in performance and features from the Baseline range. Using a 14-bit instruction word and offering more peripherals, the range targets a higher level of embedded control, but requires engineers to learn only 35 instructions meaning it is easy to achieve optimum system performance. It expands on the Baseline range to include SPI/I2C interfaces, UART, PWMs, LCD, and a 10-bit DAC. An example family is the PIC12F.

The ‘Enhanced Mid-Range’ provides further performance and adds to the Mid-Range with multiple communication peripherals, linear programming space and PWMs with independent time base. An example family is the PIC16F1XXX.

The PIC18 combines the maximum level of performance and integration with the ease-of-use of an 8-bit architecture. Offering up to 16 MIPS of processing power, the PIC18 comes with the addition of a 12-bit ADC and feature advanced peripherals such as CAN, USB, Ethernet, LCD and CTMU. Also included in the range is the K series, which provides the highest performance with ‘XLP’ extreme low power consumption. An example family is the PIC18F87KXX.

A wide range of 8-bit PIC starter development kits is available to enable engineers to quickly begin using and programming 8-bit PIC MCUs. Starter kits are affordable, turnkey solutions consisting of the hardware and software needed to explore a new device family, including an on-board or separate debugger, plus Microchip’s MPLAB® Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and other software tools. Some of the most popular starter kits include:

The PICDEM Lab Development Kit, which is designed to provide a comprehensive development and learning platform for Microchip's Flash memory based 6-, 8-, 14-, 18- and 20-pin Baseline and Mid-Range 8-bit PIC microcontrollers. Aimed at first-time PIC microcontroller users and students, the kit is supplied with five of the most popular 8-bit PICs and a host of discrete components. Expansion headers provide complete access/connectivity to all pins on the connected PIC microcontrollers and all mounted components.

The F1 Evaluation Platform is a simple development tool for Enhanced Mid-range PIC microcontrollers and provides a platform for general-purpose development and the ability to develop code for any PIC12F1 or PIC16F1 microcontroller. Integrated functionality includes: prototyping area, LCD control, system current monitoring, temperature sensing, RTC, LED driver, button control and BLDC motor control.

The PIC18 Starter Kit functions as a USB mouse, joystick or mass-storage device all using the on-board capacitive-touch-sense pads. It includes a MicroSD memory card, potentiometer, acceleration sensor and OLED display, along with an on-board debugger and USB power.

Also available is a range of development and evaluation boards that include flexibility and expansion capability for fully featured designs, including the ability to add different processors and application daughter cards.

The PIC18 Explorer Board low-cost demo board is ideal for evaluation of the PIC18 MCU families: standard PIC18, PIC18 J-series and PIC18 K-series. This single development board supports dozens of the general-purpose PIC18 families using various processor plug-in modules (PIMs), including for example the PIC18F87K22 PIM and the PIC18LF45K22 PIM, among many others. In addition, a wide range of PICtail daughterboards enable many different accessory boards to connect to the PIC18 Explorer Board such as the RN-131-PICtail and RN-171-PICtail evaluation boards, which add wireless functionality to PIC18-based microcontroller designs.


16-bit PIC Microcontrollers

Microchip's 16-bit PIC24 MCUs and dsPIC Digital Signal Controllers (DSCs) provide designers with an easy upgrade path from 8-bit PIC microcontrollers and a cost-effective option to 32-bit MCUs. The product line includes low-power microcontrollers to high-performance digital signal controllers. Offering single-cycle execution, deterministic interrupt response, zero overhead looping and fast DMA, the dsPIC family also adds a single cycle 16x16 MAC and 40-bit accumulators, making it ideal for math-intensive applications such as motor control and digital power. Performance is from 16 to 70 MIPS, DSP, with Flash from 4KB to 512KB and packages ranging from 14 to 144 pins. Typical families in the 16-bit PIC microcontroller and DSC ranges are the PIC24F and the dsPIC33F, respectively.

There is a wide range of 16-bit PIC starter kits available including: the PIC24F starter kit, which demonstrates data logging, thumb drive and graphics; the PIC24H kit, which supports accelerometer interaction, speech playback and an OLED display; the dsPIC33F and PIC24H development board, which provides an easy to use, economical development environment for 16-bit MCUs and DSCs; and the Explorer 16 development board, which is the primary development platform for 16-bit PIC products and is supplemented by a wide range of application-specific development boards including numerous PICTail™ expansion boards.

Also available is a range of development boards for motor control and digital power applications ranging from simple starter kits to complete development platforms, including the Motor Control kit, supporting capacitive touch technology and BLDC motor control, and the dsPIC DSP kit for audio sampling and playback.


32-bit PIC Microcontrollers

Microchip’s high-performance 32-bit PIC microcontrollers integrate the MIPS M4K or microAptiv microprocessor cores with a five-stage instruction pipeline. The PIC32MX integrates the MIPS M4K core delivering up to 100MHz 1.65 DMIPS/MHz, and up to 512KB Flash and 128KB SRAM. The top-of-the-range PIC32MZ EC (Embedded Connectivity) family integrates the MIPS microAptiv Core and up to 200MHz 330 DMIPS performance and up to 2MB Flash and 512KB SRAM. Aimed at advanced applications, the range’s capabilities include: high-impact graphics and user interfaces; Ethernet, USB and CAN connectivity; multitasking embedded control; and high-performance audio.

Again, a prodigious range of starter kits for 32-bit PIC microcontrollers is available including the PIC32 starter kit, PIC32MX1/MX2 kit, PIC32 USB kit, and the PIC32 Ethernet kit. A wide range of expansion boards are also available such as the PIC32 CTMU evaluation board, which is designed to facilitate the development of capacitive touch-based applications, and a Multimedia Expansion Board for graphics, touch and audio capabilities.

In addition, the high-end PIC32MZ EC family is supported by the availability of the PIC32MZ EC starter kit, together with its sister PIC32MZ EC kit (with crypto engine), as well as the PIC32MZ evaluation adapter board and the LAN8720A PHY daughterboard for Ethernet control applications.


Comprehensive Range of Software Development Tools

Microchip has developed a comprehensive range of supporting development tools including MPLAB IDE – the free, simple and powerful development environment that supports all Microchip MCU and DSC products – and free C compilers, software libraries, application reference designs and a host of application notes.

The MPLAB® X IDE is the latest generation of Microchip’s free integrated development environment. Incorporating a powerful and highly functional set of features, it allows the development of applications for PIC microcontrollers and dsPIC digital signal controllers. Running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, the tool’s unified graphical user interface (GUI) helps to integrate software and hardware development tools from Microchip and third-party sources to deliver high-performance application development and extensive debugging capabilities. MPLAB X IDE is downloadable from Microchip here.

MPLAB Harmony is a flexible, abstracted and fully integrated firmware development platform for PIC32 microcontrollers. The tool takes key elements of modular and object oriented design and adds in the flexibility to use a real-time operating system (RTOS) or work without one and provide a framework of software modules that are easy to use and configurable for specific needs. The tool includes a set of peripheral libraries, drivers and system services that are readily accessible for application development. The code development format allows maximum re-use and reduces time-to-market. MPLAB Harmony is downloadable from Microchip here.

Microchip’s latest MPLAB XC compilers support all 8-, 16- and 32- bit PIC MCUs and dsPIC DSCs. Running on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X and integrating within the MPLAB X IDE to provide a full graphical front end, features of the compilers include: editing errors and breakpoints match the corresponding lines in source code; single-step-through C and C++ source code to inspect variables and structures at critical points; data structures with defined data types, including floating point, display in watch windows; and different optimization levels to suit user requirements. The compilers are downloadable from Microchip here.

In support of all the above, Microchip’s debuggers and programmers work across all PIC MCU platforms, are USB powered and are fully integrated with MPLAB IDE with features ranging from basic debugging to advanced emulation capability. Typical products include: the high-end MPLAB REAL ICE in-circuit emulator for high-speed programming and debugging; the MPLAB ICD 3 mid-range programmer and debugger; and the low-cost PICkit In-Circuit Debugger/Programmer.